The Last Leg + the Journey Home

IMG_1032IMG_1025Day 46.

Miles Driven: 611

Montana looked like cowboy country. Fields of grass and grain mixed with cow, horse, and bison ranches. The farmland and big sky were beautiful. Montana became Idaho and the grain fields continued. We drove through the cute lake-side city of Coeur d’Alene and turned south towards Lewiston to see another of mom’s old friends from her days at Mattel, Elaine. Lewiston sits on the Idaho state line with WaIMG_1033shington. Just across the boarder is Clarkston. Get it? Lewis and Clark. We had to come down a very long and steep grade from the high prairie bluffs into the lower oasis where Lewiston and Clarkston are situated. I think we passed seven runaway truck ramps!

Elaine was very kind to let us stay with her on our journey. And as always, I really enjoy hearing the stories of when my mom was my age.

IMG_1042IMG_1037Day 47.

Miles Driven: 401

We had a lovely breakfast at Elaine’s favorite diner joint, Waffles and More. We crossed the Snake River into Washington for a bit before driving into Oregon. East Oregon was covered in dry farmland. But the second we hit the Cascade Mountains and crossed into the Columbia River Gorge at The Dalles Dam, the pine trees began to sprout up and we saw signs for waterfalls. The river was busy with sail boats and parasails.

IMG_1049We passed through our future home, Portland, and made our way to my Uncle Martin and Aunt MaryEllen’s home in Salem (our home base while we find a place to rent in Portland). We also made perfect time to see my Uncle Rupert and Aunt Diane, who were visiting from the east coast, for one more day before they flew back.

Total Miles: 10,510

The End. (but not really)

The saga continues…

We spent the next two weeks staying with my generous family, checking Craigslist every morning, and driving back and forth to Portland in search of a place to live. This was much more difficult than I expected and finding our new home to rent almost seems like fate when I look back. Any perspective house did not meet all of our criteria (ie. Allows cats, has washer and dryer hook ups) and then rented before we really had time to think and follow up. While looking at one house that was not quite right, the landlord’s wife gave us a flyer for her home that she also was renting and we had not seen the ad for. After taking a look and liking the location and layout and checking off all of our needs, we applied. And waited. And somehow, we got the very cute, blue, 1915 bungalow. Move in date set for September 1st.

After signing the lease, we had just over two weeks to kill before moving in. We drove down to Stockton to visit our good friends Katie, Andy and Heidi, then over to San Francisco to attend o10635895_10204511769101206_6743707697810196240_nur friend Beth’s wedding and explore the city a little. Then back to my hometown to prepare for the move. Our dear friend Luanne was also so generous to host us while we booked the rental truck and began the packing process. It was good to see our friends and church family again before heading off.

The drive back to Portland took two days and involved mom driving our 16ft truck with one car towed and me following in the other car with the two cats. Packing and the entire drive went mostly smooth. We are back at Uncle Martin’s for one more night. Tomorrow is move in day!!!

– – – – –

IMG_1050What a blessing these last three months have been. We were given such a great opportunity to make a change in our lives and try something new. The road trip was eye opening to the diversity in landscape, people, food and culture that spans our country. America is so beautiful as it changes from coast to coast. Rolling hills, valleys, deserts, red rocks, rocky mountains, farmland, bayous, forests, fields and prairie. All of these landscapes offer something unique to our country. Everyone needs to experience America at some point in their lives by visiting the national parks and learning about its history. Plus, the whole trip was just plain, old fun!

And let me just say, thank you SO much to our friends and family who hosted us along the way. Thank you for feeding us, giving us a place to sleep, and letting us do laundry. We love you all so much. And please know that you always welcome in our home too.

Here is to a new adventure!

– – – – –

The Grand Totals:

31 States + 1 territory

12,406 miles driven (CA and back again)

# of bug bites: countless

cheapest gas: $3.19 in Alabama

most expensive gas: $4.29 in California

favorite place: you can never pick just one spot in America the Beautiful

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Those National Park Days: Grand Teton + Yellowstone

IMG_0997IMG_0995Day 44.

Miles Driven: 310.

We woke to a beautiful morning and drove the last 45 minutes into Grand Teton National Park. What a beautiful park! Green prairie grass of Jackson Hole valley juts up to snow caped IMG_0989peaks. French explorers named the range “Les Trois Tetons” or The Three Breasts, the tallest being the Grand Teton. Glaciers and snowmelt created many lakes that are now used recreationally for canoeing and swimming. The mountains and lakes are named for backcountry explorers and trappers that worked in this area. We cooked a wonderful breakfast on the shores of Jenny Lake. We walked around a bit, visited the info center a bit, and marveled at the spectacular scenery a lot!

_MG_1306In the afternoon, we drove a short distance north into America’s first National Park: Yellowstone. Signed into law in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is one of _MG_1331the most active geothermal points on the planet. “What is geothermal?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you. Yellowstone National Park is a volcano, like the Hawaiian Volcanoes, that sits in the middle of a tectonic plate. However, we do not see the typical cone and cauldron. Here, the crust of the earth is very thin, maybe seven miles deep, compared to 20-miles everywhere else. A pocket of magma (molten rock) sits below the crust and heats up any water pockets that flow below the surface creating geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Beyond the thermal activity, Yellowstone has a very busy ecosystem too. The entire park is busy with birds, bison, bears, and wolves.

_MG_1330_MG_1325My good friend Joel had worked in Yellowstone for several summers and gave us the ins and outs on what to see and where to stay. Somehow, we got a last minute reservation at Canyonlands Campground. We were so relived that we did get a reservation because once at the park, every campsite was FULL!

_MG_1320From the start, we started seeing animals. A bison walked right in front of our car. As dusk began to set in, we made our way to Hayden Valley, and so did everyone else. Park visitors would gather on little knolls lining the valley with their binoculars, telephoto lenses, and spotting scopes on tripods to watch the animals. There was lots of activity during our stay. I heard that earlier in the week, a bison had died which was drawing the bears and wolves into the valley. I saw the wolves feeding and some bears playing just a football field away. So cool!

I spy two bears and a bison!

I spy two bears and a bison!

For dinner, we bought some bison meat at the Yellowstone grocery store and cooked the burgers on our campstove. The grass-fed meat was rich and lean and oh so tasty.

Day 45.

The campsite was so quiet in the morning. Even the birds slept in. We cooked breakfast, packed the car, and took off for the upper, middle, and lower geyser basins. Once in the geyser basin, we began seeing plumes of steam rising up between the trees. Our first stop _MG_1350was at the Grand Prismatic Pool. WOW! This pool was gorgeous and the colors ranged from bright blue to deep brown. What is unique about these pools, is that heat-loving, microbacterias thrive in these waters. At the center of the pool, the water is over 200 degrees and noting lives there letting the clear water reflect the blue sky. But, as the water laps over the edge of the pool and cools, the colors change to green, then orange, then brown. The national park had build boardwalks around the pools letting us get close and smell the sulfur escaping.

IMG_1009IMG_1010We continued to the lower geyser basin to see the iconic Old Faithful Geyser! We had a little time to explore the visitor’s center before we joined all the other guests around the vent and waited. Old Faithful has a sense of humor and would spurt out a little water and steam, just enough to excite the crowd, before going quiet for a bit. Then, woosh! Old Faithful stood up to its name and shot up 150 feet into the air, right on schedule. The crowd cheered and that’s all.

_MG_1367_MG_1358We explored the historic Old Faithful Inn and marveled at the towering main lobby that was made entirely in the log cabin style.

After lunch, we made our way back towards our campground with stops at various other geysers and paint pots. I also enjoyed the sulphur caldron! Hot and acidic, this boiling pool of mud has a pH of 1.3 and could melt the skin off IMG_1016your finger! And smelled oh, so “wonderful” (not really). Plus, a huge bison almost joined us on the boardwalk by the mud volcano.

We drove through Hayden Valley again to try and spot more wildlife. I think I got a picture of a grizzly bear. At sunset, we paid a visit to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon which sure lives up to its name. The golden sunlight light up the yellow sandstone and made the whole canyon glow.

IMG_1025IMG_1023Day 46.

We woke up at 6:00 to get an early start because we still had a lot to see and a long drive ahead of us.

_MG_1395We drove past more geysers to the Mammoth Hot Springs that spew up over two tons of calcium carbonate creating travertine terraces. The beautiful white cliffs look like a giant wedding cake that is slowly growing. The calcium carbonate flows just quickly enough to build the travertine around trees.

We ate our breakfast outside the historic Fort Yellowstone and admired the beautiful buildings before heading out. We crossed the 45th parallel (half way between the equator and the north pole) and the Montana boarder before we even left the park through the north entrance. What a great idea our national parks are. They truly are “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Total Miles: 9,500

A Day With Mr. Lincoln + Sensational South Dakota

IMG_0961IMG_0943Day 41.

Miles Driven: 365

We spent most of the day in the Illinois state capital: Springfield. (Did you know that Springfield is the most common town name in the USA?) This town is also known for being President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln’s father moved his family to Indiana after losing all his land because of faulty property titles. The family then moved to Illinois after the death of Lincoln’s mother. As a young man, Lincoln helped sail goods down river to New Orleans. It was here that he first witnessed slavery and he walked back home to Illinois.

IMG_3548Back in Illinois, Lincoln owned a general store and ran for General Assembly. Though he lost, he was post master while teaching himself law and ultimately becoming a lawyer. He ran again and was elected to the state legislature. Once becoming a lawyer, he moved to Springfield where he met his future wife, Mary Todd.

Here in Springfield, he became a very successful lawyer. With strong opinions about slavery and creating a modern America, he ran for senator but lost. In 1860, following many speeches, Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run for president. And the rest is history.

Springfield was always considered his home because he lived, worked, and had four sons in this home over 17 years. After leaving to be president in Washington D.C. he never returned to Springfield. But, his home has become a landmark ever since he stepped into the political limelight. Now, the National Park Service has preserved the four blocks surrounding Lincoln’s Springfield home including over 30 buildings that are being restored to their 1800s glory.

IMG_0952IMG_0954We really enjoyed visiting his home and seeing the living history characters wander the streets and acting like Lincoln and Mary. It was amazing how intelligent Lincoln was. He was an inventor, great orator, and seemed like an all around nice guy. On the house tour, we were not allowed to touch any of the original furnishings but it was great to be in the rooms where he developed much of his political stances. However, when we climbed the stairs we were told these were the original handrails and to use them just as Lincoln did.

We drove past the capitol later and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading out on the next stretch towards the west coast. We crossed back across the Mississippi River and stopped for the night in Des Moines, IA.

IMG_0969Day 42.

Miles Driven: 667

We drove and drove and drove for, yes, 667 miles across through more cornfields, across the Missouri River and into South Dakota. The second we crossed the Missouri, the landscaped changed from crop fields to prairie. We learned that prairie is a unique kind of landscape. It is too dry to sustain trees but not dry enough to be called a desert. Just grass as far as the eye can see.

IMG_0960IMG_0964IMG_0974Our straight shot across south South Dakota was long and our game to keep us awake was to count all of the billboards for Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a unique shopping mall and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Dakota. You can find and eat just about everything in this store. So, how many billboards did we see? 81 while driving west on I-90.

_MG_1277From Wall, we drove just half an hour to the west entrance of the Badlands National Park. Both the Lakota and French explorers named the area “Bad Lands” or “Land that is bad to cross” which describes the eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires that sink down from the prairie. Upon entering the park we were greeted by a herd of big horn sheep. We drove down to the base of the pinnacles and cooked dinner at a picnic area. At sunset, the landscape seemed to become more and more desolate. We felt like we were on the moon. It was so quiet and our only company were the bugs. Eventually, the emptiness turned to creepiness and we were consumed by bugs. We quickly jumped in the car, hot rice still in our cook pot, and sped off to our campsite in Rapid City.

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IMG_0985Day 43.

Miles Driven: 522

Rapid City sits at the base of the Black Hills State Park. We set off into the Black Hills to see one of the most incredible National Memorials: Mount Rushmore.

IMG_0973My first impression of the monument was that it would just be a tourist trap, but the exhibit was so interesting! We did not realize how much skill was put into the creation of the four faces in the mountain. In 1927, the governor of South Dakota commissioned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create a great monument of the west, such as a sculpture of Lewis and Clark out of the pinnacles of the Black Hills. Borglum suggested using the granite face of Mount Rushmore to carve a memorial of national importance. He chose the faces of the presidents who helped progress the American dream. George Washington for birthing the nation, Thomas Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, Abe Lincoln for perusing equality and preserving the union, and Teddy Roosevelt for guiding the nation through economic expansion, constructing the Panama Canal, and creating the National Park Service.

_MG_1281_MG_1283I was so amazed by how the faces were created. The sculptor, Borglum, had initially planned on using a chisel to carve the faces but quickly switched to controlled dynamite. The workers would hang on lines that dangled over the cliff face, drill carefully calculated holes and fit the small charges of dynamite, blast at lunch, and repeat again in the afternoon. They could easily make an eye or lip in a day. They would then burnish the stone to make it smooth. Over 12 years, they created the four faces that is now Mount Rushmore and would have continued to add more detail had finances not been diverted to WWII.IMG_0982

Seeing Mount Rushmore almost felt like a little conclusion to our Grand Adventure (not quite because we still have a few more stops) because we were able to see a great monument to many of the presidents we have and had visited during our trips. It was a heart warming memorial that made me feel proud!

IMG_0986We spent the afternoon continuing our drive west through the Black Hills, into Wyoming, and over the Rockies. We wound our way through passes and valleys. It was a beautiful drive even through a huge truck kicked up a rock and put a big chip in our windshield. Gah! We drove till dark and found a room in a little inn just outside of Grand Teton. So excited for tomorrow!

Total Miles: 9,190

A Tale of Two Houses

IMG_0933Day 38.

Miles Driven: 463

IMG_0897Westward-ho! Now we start our journey back to the West coast. I had no idea Pennsylvania was so wide! Now, our must-see attraction in Cleveland was the house used for the cult-classic holiday film A Christmas Story. This is a great film that hits home with many of the strange holiday traditions and events that can happen in any American family. Known for lines like “you’ll shoot your eye out kid,” “show me how the piggies eat,” and “fra-gi-le, that must be Italian.” After 24-hours of A Christmas Story on TBS, this film has become a yearly tradition at my house.

The 1983 film was based on Jean Sheperd’s collection of short stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and was set in Hammond, Indiana. Director Bob Clark found that Hammond no longer displayed the 1950s America where Sheperd’s stories were set, but Cleveland, still a busy steel town, did. The exterior of the house and neighborhood were used for all outside shots while interior shots were recreated on a sound stage.

IMG_0898IMG_0900In 2004, the house was put on sale on ebay and purchased by Brian Jones who then restored the home to its stardom. He even gutted the interior and recreated the Parker Family’s home inside, exactly like the sound stage. The house and museum now hold much movie memorabilia and is very fun to visit at any level of fandom for this movie.

IMG_0914After spending a few hours at the house, we drove over to Cleveland’s Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The museum was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid addition at the Louvre in IMG_0916Paris. We did not have time to tour the museum, but they have an awesome gift shop. I did buy a neat 45-record of Elvis, one of the first artists to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A bit more driving and then camping tonight.

Day 39.

IMG_0931

Miles Driven: 276

_MG_1246I am so excited today. We backtracked south east a bit into the south-west corner of Pennsylvania. Here, just south of Pittsburg is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous homes: Fallingwater. Commissioned by the Kaufmann Family, founders of the Kaufmann department store in Pittsburg, in 1936, it was a mountain escape from the smoky steel town.

Wright’s design was like no other. It’s 30’ cantilevers stretched out over the waterfall below and appeared to be floating in the trees. The architect and the Kaufmanns shared a common love of nature and innovative designs. Wright based his design off the many natural elements he saw while exploring the site, in particular two rock ledges that hung over the waterfall. Though a unique design, a visitor can see its relationship to previous works by Wright, for example, the horizontal lines of the prairie house and its Japanese influence. All of the stones were quarried locally and many boulders were not removed from the site but built on top of and integrated inside the house.

_MG_1255The home was stunning and the tour very interesting. It was fun to compare this home to the other Wright houses I have seen. Mom kept saying that I can design her a little suite like this some day for her.

We drove back into Ohio and camped at Buckeye Lake just outside of Columbus.

IMG_0943IMG_0938Day 40.

Miles Driven: 472

Another surge westward. We drove through Ohio, through Indiana (we made a pitstop in Indianapolis at our favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s, to get supplies), and into Illinois. The whole drive, all we saw was corn. Corn fields on corn fields with a few soy beans thrown in. We took a small detour through a little Amish town where we bought some desserts at an Amish restaurant and enjoyed seeing the horse drawn carriages. The museum containing the world’s largest broom collection closed right before we got there. Oh darn. But we did get to see the Hippie Monument next door, complete with an actual hippie standing in front. We found another nice campsite to stay at outside of Springfield. We met two Canadian men who were both traveling by motorcycle. It is always fun to trade road trip stories with fellow campers.

IMG_0947IMG_0950Total Miles: 7,636

Feeling Patriotic and how EPCOT helped me realize that

photo 1It is now day 26 of our great American road trip! We are in Florida, it’s Independence Day, and photo 5who has the best fireworks? Disney of course! Lets go!

We had been on a Disney only trip to Florida before and we really wanted to see EPCOT again. The rides are easy and fun but the best part is the World Showcase, featuring many countries along the shores of the central lake.

From the minute you step out of the car, you are showered with Disney magic starting with the background music, a quick tram ride, and you are whisked in through the gate. Disney recently started new FastPass+ tickets that are linked to your entrance ticket and allow you to reserve rides days ahead of time. I think this really helped keep the wait relatively short.

photo 4Our first ride, Spaceship Earth, inside the EPCOT sphere, brings you on a journey through time visiting all of the great inventions that helped develop today’s civilization, culture, and technology. At the end of the ride we were asked questions on what parts of your future are most important. Disney sees my future as living in a floating house in the city with lots of trips to my under water vacation home, plus I’ll have a robot to take care of the cats when I’m away. The future looks bright!

We rode Mission to Mars and Test Track, but the informational boat ride, Living with the Earth, was fascinating! It brought us on a tour of some of Disney World’s growing grounds and showed some of the newest technology for growing crops. Did you know that Disney World grows almost all of its produce on the Disney property? Anything they can’t grow, they source locally. We had no idea that the orange groves we drove through to get to EPCOT would eventually become the juice available at the restaurants.

photo 2The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring the World Showcase. We had a lunch of wurst in photo 3Germany and crème brule in France for dessert. I was so impressed with how detailed the architecture was. As we passed from country to country I felt like I was in San Marco Square in Venice or a little street in Paris. We enjoyed watching all of the short films that showcased the beautiful scenery and customs from each country. In a way, EPCOT is the perfect example for America. It is a land full of many foods and cultures all living together. They share their customs and history and welcomes everyone.

In the evening, Disney presented the most fantastic fireworks accompanied by patriotic music. The finale was so intense and close, I almost ducked!

The past years, I have been so anxious to get out and go somewhere new. I got the chance to study abroad and travel all over Europe and it was so hard to come back. But now, on our Great American Road Trip, I notice that the USA has so much different scenery, cultures, and food than what is in my little hometown. I can appreciate, travel, and learn about this beautiful country that is America. On the way out of the park, I could not get one of the songs that was played during the fireworks out of my head:

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.”

 

 

 

 

Arches National Park

photoRoad Trip USA Day 4:

Miles Driven: 62

Arches National Park was absolutely stunning. The iron and calcium rich sedimentary soil forms layers of bright red and orange soil. Through the constant erosion of wind and rain, natural arches and pillars rise up from the Earth. The amazing thing is, the arches will never look the same day after day due to the harsh climate of the Colorado Plateau. Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish referring to the red sandstone of the region that is swept away into the Colorado river.

As we drove through the park, we would try and guess the names of some of the rock formations. We spotted one rock that was not named on our map and we like to call it The Love Birds or The Two Amigos.

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We drove out to the Devil’s Garden and walked through the tall and narrow fin rocks out to the Landscape Arch. This arch stretches across a wide opening; amazing how it stays up.

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After a picnic lunch we made our way to Delicate Arch, the wonder featured on many of Utah’s signs and license plates. Driving through the park, each view was constantly changing. The diverse colors were fantastic. The red stone against the rich blue sky with the bright green foliage below.IMG_3453

photo 2We were greeted with an afternoon thunderstorm and watched as the rocks turned a deeper burnt umber color.

Back at Canyonlands Campground in Moab, we made dinner early and cleaned up the car after the ice chest leaked on our mattress. Our first mishap! Good luck we are staying at a campsite with electricity and a laundromat! Car camping is fun because we get to meet so many interesting people. Just walking to the bathroom, we hear IMG_3450snippets of everyone’s own adventures. Our meals have been very creative and interesting. We are always trying to clean out our ice chest and everything has turned out quite tasty thus far!

Our campsite neighbor is a fellow from Luxemburg who was tired of his bank job and had enough money to travel the world. He had spent three months in South America and is now one month into his three months in North America. We shared some advice on different National Parks. Next stop for him, two months in Australia and New Zealand, then Asia, Africa, and maybe back to Europe.

Total Miles: 1,180

 

That canyon really is Grand!

Day 2.photo 3photo 2

Miles Driven: 293

We were so tired from the early morning of packing yesterday morning and the late night stroll of the Las Vegas strip last night that we slept in this morning and picked up a few things at a store before really hitting the road around noon.

_MG_0980First stop, the Hoover Dam!  It is considered one of the engineering wonders of the world by controlling the flood waters of the Colorado River and generating energy for Las Vegas and the LA basin.

Once at the Grand Canyon, we set up our “camp” at the Mather’s campground. Only $18 a night. Quite a deal! Our site is tucked away in a quiet corner of the campground. We were greeted by two mule deer strolling through the campsite munching on leaves. We too had some dinner on our little camp stove and had fun organizing our car for optimum storage and sleeping. All of our belongings can fit into the front two seats leaving us plenty of room in the back for sleeping. The couch mattress is quite comfortable.

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We headed to the Grand Canyon rim to enjoy a beautiful sunset and watch the changing colors. A woman there said to her family: “It looks like someone sculpted it.” and she right, God did. Such an amazing wonder in our small world.

photo 4“O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom has thou made them all: The Earth is full of thy Riches.” -Psalm 104/24

“Father Almighty, wonderful Lord, Wondrous Creator, be ever adored; Wonders of nature sing praises to You, Wonder of wonders- I may praise too!”

Day 3._MG_1009

Miles Driven: 381

We woke up to birds chirping and a view of the pine and juniper trees surrounding our camp. After breakfast, we headed to the Grand Canyon’s newly built South Rim Visitor’s center. Their bus system was also quite impressive and quickly brought us to the historic district of the park. The historic El Tovar Hotel was filled with heavy wood panels and hunting trophies and had one of the best views overlooking the canyon. What a view for the visitors staying there.

_MG_1021On the way out of the park, we stopped at Desert View point and enjoyed one of the best views down the canyon. We could see the curving Colorado River and the rise and fall of small canyons and mesas. The Desert View Watchtower was designed by lady architect Mary Colter and is remnant of the Native American architecture of the area and blends into the landscape.

photo 1The drive from the Grand Canyon to Moab, UT was long but full of changing scenery. We listened to music and books on tape to pass the time. I also read an article out of the AAA tour book on the many tribes who live in the south west. We made a pit-stop at Four Corners, the cross section between Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. This tourist attraction is situated in Navajo land and we got to browse crafts created by the local people.

Tomorrow, Arches National Park!

Total Miles: 1,118